You wouldn’t necessarily either seek it out or know it – unless, of course, you’re local.
But Portuguese patisserie Madeira has several outlets along the Albert Embankment and, with their astroturf road-facing terraces, they’re all a curiosity worth investigating should you find yourself in Vauxhall (perhaps to see a play at Above The Stag, as we were the other week.)
And Pico Bar and Grill is perhaps the best place to start. It opened fifteen years ago in a double-arch: an upper-level casual bar is dominated by a screen showing inevitable sports, and a lower-level dining room is adorned with white tablecloths, posher cutlery and open kitchen.
Waiters dart in and out of both areas; we sat upstairs, not wanting to eat early-doors in the empty capacious restaurant. First impressions? Wow: a negroni from the short cocktail list is a bargain-basement £5. Is there anywhere else in London dishing them up that cheaply? We reckon not. Two, please.
When the drinks arrived, clinking, we have to confess that they weren’t quite made with love – haste playing a far larger role – with the result more like something you might knock up after-hours at home. But still: the holy trinity of campari, vermouth and gin was present and correct. Ice was generous, the effect extremely alcoholic. Win-win.
We needed some hearty fare to soak up the booze, naturally. The main courses vary hugely in price, from about £8 for pizza up to over £20 for some dishes; tapas, however ranges from £4.50 to a tenner.
We ordered a few small plates: patatas bravas (£5) were sadly the weakest link, the cubed potatoes not quite crispy, the mound of tomato sauce all fire with no real depth of flavour. But a simple plate of boat-sized ciabatta halves of bruschetta (£5) excelled: rubbed, no smeared with garlic, the slices were each topped fulsomely with chopped olives tomatoes and lots of fruity oil: the real, rustic deal.
Chicken croquettes (£5.50) continued this umami #realness, their innards creamily savoury, once the steam had dwindled from their piping hot bodies. But best of all was a textbook board of tender octopus a gallega (£9.30), the Galician dish in which the tentacles are boiled for half an hour before being sliced into thick coins, served with potatoes and paprika. Utterly delish.
To top it off, house red – decent enough – rocks in at just £4.50 a large 250ml glass. Yes, you read that correctly.
In short, this really is a joyously priced gem in Zone 1 – especially if you want proper carbs and bargain booze (who doesn’t?). And, lest I forget, the very speedy service proved invaluable with our theatre date next door.
Pico Bar & Grill is open daily, (more info here), 74 Albert Embankment SE1 7TL